A little over a year ago I began to learn bellringing. The bells at our church had been largely silent for several years, and a group of us decided that if we wanted them rung we would have to learn to ring them ourselves. Under the expert guidance of ringers from a neighbouring parish we started to learn the ropes.
This is no easy thing. As the bell turns full-circle on its wheel the rope goes up and down at a tremendous speed and the beginner has to learn to grab it and release it as it flies past, to pull it at the right time by just the right amount, and to feel what the bell mechanism is doing fifty feet above. This must be done for the safety of the beginner, of the other ringers, and to prevent damage to the bell and its mechanism.
After a few weeks practice this all begins to come together, and you can start to ring the bell properly. Now you must learn to ring with others, hearing the other bells as you ring, so that the church bells sound out together, calling people to worship God, or singing joyously in celebration, or sorrowfully at a funeral. Then the bells speak loud and clear, knowing their place among the other bells, singing harmoniously as they weave complex patterns to and fro.
When we try to follow the teachings that we find in the bible and in the traditions of the Church we can follow a similar path. Here there is a complex of ideas, underpinned by some simple principles, and we have to use the skills that God gives us to understand how to apply these concepts. It is not enough simply to pull on a bell-rope and expect to be able to ring a peal of bells — it takes practice, skill and co-ordination. Similarly we strive to deepen our understanding of our faith, and of the words of the bible, and to work out what we are called to do, and how to do it. The message of the bible is not always simple and its application to the world is not always clear-cut, and if we think it is then we risk becoming at best a clanging noise, and at worst a danger to ourselves and others, as when a ringer loses control of the bell-rope.
But when we have begun to understand the good news of the kingdom of God then we can sing out harmoniously, and proclaim the theme loudly, clearly and joyfully to the world.0 Comments
Two weeks ago, Paul Vallely the associate editor of the Independent newspaper and regular contributor to the Church Times published this comment piece: A suitable case for treatment? in which he considers the benefits to society of reorientating Christians.
I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject – to borrow a phrase from the Bishop of Chester – but it is clear that some people who feel themselves to be religious can, with psychiatric help, reorientate themselves. Being a Christian is now a curable condition.
There are those deluded folk who assume that Christianity is not a lifestyle choice, but a gift from the Almighty. I want to help them on this. Modern mental-health care has a number of techniques, including aversion therapy, which can significantly reduce religious cravings, or, at least, stop people acting on them in a way that is unnatural.
Awaiting licensing to a new post, there is one bonus, as I sit amongst the detritus of moving house — I don’t have to preach on Sunday, the day we mark as ‘Christ the King’. I always find these weeks before Advent, which we now call the Kingdom season, difficult. The words given to us to use in worship and in our lectionary readings are distinctly triumphalist. They speak of majesty, power, grandeur, force. How do they fit with the gospel theme of a world turned upside down, a world where the priorities are quite other? The contrast seems all the more striking this year, when the immediately preceding Sundays gave us a whole series of readings from Mark, in which we are told that the first shall be last and the last first.
But perhaps I should regret not preaching this Sunday, and trying to work out my ambivalence about the Church’s season in the light of current events. News coverage this week has been dominated by the state visit of the president of the United States. George Bush’s visit has been an extraordinary mixture of pomp and security. He has been entertained at Buckingham Palace, and protected by enormous numbers of police and security officers; he has addressed the political elite, travelled in a limousine with doors five inches thick, and reviewed a traditional guard of honour. Majesty, power, grandeur, and force.
My questioning is not about the character of American foreign policy under this president, or even about the extent and limits of American power; it runs deeper than that. It is about how the Christian tradition views power and all its trappings. In celebrating Christ the King, it is not enough to imagine a purely virtuous superpower, engaged in promoting universal well-being by using the traditional levers of force and influence. We are called, I think, to something much more radical, to re-imagining the nature and uses of dominion, to losing the triumphalism, and seeking out what it might mean for the last indeed to be first.2 Comments
Saturday and Sunday additions below
The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a statement concerning today’s bombings in Istanbul, which you can read here.
The Diocese in Europe has also issued a statement concerning this, which you can read here.
The Church Times has a news story, on the web but not in the paper edition,
Chaplain comforts Istanbul bereaved.
This is the title of the new book published last week by Church House Publishing. The book, prepared by a committee of four bishops, is commended to the Church for study by the House of Bishops of the Church of England. I commented briefly about it when it was published.
The key thing to understand about this book is that it is a study guide, it does not set out to be an expression of any new opinions, by bishops or by anybody else. Rather, it aims to state a full range of existing opinions on the subject, so that they can all be studied.
Here is the official publishers blurb for the book.
Here is the Church Times digest of the book.
You can download the front matter and Chapter 1 of the book from the CHP website as a pdf file. You can also download the first two chapters of the short accompanying booklet, A Companion to Some Issues in Human Sexuality, with study material for individuals and groups.
Today the Church Times carried this comment on the book by Giles Fraser, Let’s be realistic about sex.
Thinking Anglicans hopes to publish other comments and reflections on the book when people have had time to read it.
Getting to the end
The hardest sentence to write of this article has been this one. Where to begin? What bearing to set off in? The start is determined by the end. I need to know where I want to go, so that I can point myself in the right direction.
For me this isn?t just part of the struggle of writing articles, it is central to the way I live as a Christian. I believe in a God of purpose and of destiny. A God who has clear ends in mind, and who calls me to journey with him towards our final destination. The question of discipleship is one of discovering where I think I am being led, and then trying to take the next step in that direction. Believing, as firmly as I can manage, that God himself will help me to take it. It?s a way of being Christian that makes the basic ethical question one of asking whether a particular action (or inaction) is likely to work towards the fulfilment of the divine purpose, or against it.
The clues to this destination come supremely in the bible, especially in the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes they are called the ?Kingdom of God? or ?Heaven?. They offer a glimpse of an existence characterised by complete intimacy with God, love, and forgiveness. In heaven there will be no more oppression, injustice or prejudice. In Christ there is, we are reminded, neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. The Kingdom we are told is breaking in even here and now. And it does so when we act in ways that show we are trying to live in it already.
The scriptures give us much more than a glimpse of the destination. They offer the reflections and experiences of others who have sought to make the same journey. As my uncle taught me years ago, ?Learn from other people?s mistakes. You?ll never have time to make them all for yourself.? St Paul in particular gives us lists of the types of behaviour that may help or hinder us on the way.
In the immediate post Vatican II era Roman Catholics built up the image of the ?pilgrim church?. And it is one that has stuck with me ever since. It keeps me from imagining, in some post-modern or ?new age? sense that the only journey is my personal one. My journey is part of the journey of the church, which in turn is part of the journey of the whole creation towards God. Again Paul?s letters provide some wonderful insights into the many ways in which the church lost the path, even in those immediate post-Easter years. And I often find comfort in them when we mess things up today ? the comfort of knowing there never was a golden age.
Because the journey is not simply a personal one, the creation itself matters, and matters deeply. I find myself in direct opposition to those Christians who deduce from their belief in the imminent return of Jesus that we should use up the Earth?s resources, or even hasten the destruction that the scriptures suggest will herald the end time. Rather the whole creation is being shaped by God to achieve its ultimate fulfilment in him. It is not a rejection of the doctrine of the fall, but a belief that God works to restore the fallen, rather than just to pluck brands from the burning. But that does mean that I part company, and pretty firmly, with those of my colleagues who base their theology on what one recently referred to as the ?utter depravity? of our fallen state. And in terms of the subjects that are most controversial in the church at present the primary question I take to the scriptures, reason and tradition is to ask what effect the love two men or women have for each other has on their and our ultimate destiny. Is it something that condemns to hell, or that will need to be discarded on the road to heaven? Or is it part of them that will travel with them and us to God?s Kingdom?
I?ve just about completed my journey through this article. I?ve got to where I wanted to get, and said what I wanted to say. But like most good journeys I?ve found something new on the way. It has struck me how the way I live my faith resonates with how I deal with a new computer or piece of software. In both cases looking for a book of instructions comes last on the list, after I?ve worked out what it?s meant to do and tried to get it to do it. And possibly followed the examples of more experienced friends. So if you?re one of those who reads the manual thoroughly first, and memorises as many rules as you can then it’s highly likely the way we encapsulate our faith is different too. And in that diversity is God?s glory.1 Comment
Several additional articles published last month are now available.
Searing pain of an honest meeting by Barry Morgan
Do we really believe in the Bible? by Philip Giddings
We are not the architects of divison by Michael Ingham
The Quadrilateral is not enough by Michael Nazir-Ali
It will be hard to disentangle by John Rees
Sixth formers, as a breed, generally do not need another reason to disregard the church. If they think about church at all, it is usually as a branch of the National Trust that sings hymns, theme park England, a costume drama and what goes with that is irrelevance, disdain and (this was a new one on me) pity.
We had talked before in class about sexuality and the church, when there had been the leisure to theoretically consider biblical texts and the worlds from which they sprang. This time it was personal, this time it had legs; four of them, Jeffrey John’s and Gene Robinson’s though, to be precise, there were eight legs if you counted their respective partners. It is the partners which fuels the sense of offence and, in the absence of a biblicist African bishop, it was me who was held to account.
Why I was so ill at ease was because, it seemed to me, that this group of young people seemed to be much better informed about both the nature of sexual orientation and the emotional range of affective love than has been evident in the recent public news releases of the church. In the past, the church at its best may have called secular culture into account, or, just as likely, been lagging behind secular wisdom while blindly protecting its own interests. In that classroom, I was uncomfortably aware that these young men and women had not needed to be taught about the values of compassionate and inclusive community, for them it was a given. It fell to me to try and interpret for them what appeared to be blind bigotry, and I did not have the heart to know where to begin and neither did I care.
The problem is that I do not have a position on homosexuality. For me it is personal, it has legs, lots of them. I cannot reduce to an issue my liturgy tutor from university who first introduced me to Thomas Tallis, and showed me what it was like to regard the moods of the day as sacred and a resource for prayer, while taking my friends and me out punting in long ago August afternoons. I cannot clinically debate the man who, when it was discovered I may have to preach for a living, took a clumsy sixteen year old with a stammer and began to train his voice over years so he could speak a complete sentence in public. I cannot weigh the spiritual legitimacy of a man and his partner who had no reason at all to keep an unobtrusive eye on me, when I was recently divorced in a foreign country, looking after my three-year-old at weekends. These are sufficient, but there are many more.
As a pastor I have learned that human communities seldom make decisions on the basis of logical issues. If we have an impasse we tell our stories, we show how we came to believe the way we do. I do not know, but I would not be surprised if this had been the hope of the Archbishop at the recent Primates Summit at Lambeth. But, publicly at least, the heat has gone into an issue, and the way back looks like an increasingly distant hope.
What saved me, before the period bell went, was to convey that the gospel, before it is anything else, is news. We have four gospels in the Bible and a few others outside. Each reflects the retelling of Jesus to different communities with different cultures and interests. These have been with us for almost 2,000 years, but we have not yet taken the hint.
We start with their witness, this is one of the characteristics of a Christian outlook, but we do not stop there. We can consult scripture, but we cannot set up camp there, even if we could. Like the gospel writers, we have to take what we have heard and seen and go and live Christ’s world in this one, by living in peace and justice with my neighbours on this earth, whatever amount of confrontation, struggle, recognition and surrender that may involve.
I am here to write this because some individuals, who have been called unclean by my fellow Christians, took time over me and cared for me. What is more important is that I, in my turn do the same. If I wind up caring for those who are being called outcast, and loving them because they are loveable, and that God did not make a mistake when he made them, then maybe I’m not too far off-message.0 Comments
I shall now revert to posting my near-daily News updates on my personal blog rather than here on TA.
The “really major events” of the primates meeting and the New Hampshire consecration have now passed, and the level of press activity is reducing rapidly.
Simon Sarmiento1 Comment
Africa first today.
This Day, Lagos Akinola Leads Protest Against Anglican Gay Bishop
East African Standard, Nairobi Kenyan Anglicans Disown Gay Bishop
The Monitor, Kampala Church of Uganda Rejects Gay Bishop
The Guardian Rowan plea for unity over gay bishop and What they said about…Bishop Gene Robinson
The Independent Anglicans sever ties amid gay bishop fury
The Telegraph Day the Church split and Lambeth’s fragile peace shattered and African Anglicans fear cost of split
The Times World’s churches cut links over gay bishop and ‘Lost sheep’ start to desert liberal churches
Also The Times has this leader On the brink Anglicans should still strive to avert a schism
The BBC African Church anger over gay bishop links also to video report
Also on the BBC Alex Kirby has this opinion article, Split church hopes to muddle on.
Here are the four key American newspaper sources:
The New York Times Openly Gay Man Is Made a Bishop and African Anglicans Vent Anger at Gay Bishop
The Washington Post Episcopalians Consecrate First Openly Gay Bishop
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Openly gay man becomes Episcopal bishop but more interesting is Steve Levin’s account of local events yesterday, Fellowship prevails in local service where conservative meets liberals.
Larry Stammer reports in the Los Angeles Times Episcopalians Consecrate Openly Gay Bishop.
Christianity Today’s Doug LeBlanc filed Gay Bishop Consecrated Despite Objections
if you want more American reports there is a huge list of them here (scroll down to second item).
This entry contains, for convenient reference, links to all public statements made by official bodies (above the level of the individual diocese) or by lobbying groups, consequent upon the consecration of the Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire. The order is completely random. Requests for additions invited.
Revised 8, 13, 18, 21 November, 4 December, 11 December
Despite reports to the contrary in other places, I have been unable so far to confirm any formal provincial statement from either Rwanda or Central Africa.
British newspaper websites have the following:
The Times Gay bishop consecrated amid threat of schism and Williams: my deep regret at division
The Telegraph Diatribes mar consecration of gay bishop and Williams anger as ceremony for gay bishop tears Church apart
The Guardian Gay consecration splits church and Two views from the pulpit – in just one church
The Scotsman Unholy row reaches its peak and this PA report, Parishioners Defiantly Support Their Bishop’s Consecration
The Mirror IT’LL BREAK GOD’S HEART
The Sun Gay bishop cops swoop (worth reading this!)
UK Anglicans welcome the consecration of Gene Robinson
3rd November 2003
The original release is here and reproduced below.3 Comments
I am writing this on the day that Gene Robinson is being consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire. He will be making history as the first open and active gay man to be made bishop in the Anglican Church. His election and consecration has threatened to cause division not only in his own Episcopal Church of the United States, but across the entire Anglican Communion.
For some faithful Anglicans, today marks the painful end of an agreed understanding of how we should order our lives and our churches. They feel distraught and anxious about the future of our Communion and the future of the Christian faith as it has been taught and handed down over the centuries.
For others, today heralds a time when we step out of the shadows of hypocrisy into the light of Christ’s love for and acceptance of all his followers, including that small minority who are attracted to their own sex. For these believers, the Church has just made a bold and positive stand which will enhance its mission and ministry to the world.
Last month the Anglican Primates gathered at Lambeth Palace at the invitation of Archbishop Rowan Williams, largely in response to Gene Robinson’s election. What they achieved was remarkable: no one walked out and everyone pledged to stay faithful to the process, even though they acknowledged that there would be repercussions when Gene Robinson was made bishop. As in politics, what happens now will have, at least in part, to do with the art of the possible: we are not starting in an ideal world, nor are we starting in a vacuum.
Right before he allowed himself to be arrested, Jesus prayed a powerful prayer for our unity – not albeit denominational, but for all his followers: … “that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:23 TNIV) This unity was for a purpose, so that “the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”.
I believe that Anglican unity is a prize worth fighting for, but that unity exists within the context of a greater unity – the unity of all believers in Christ. Even if the nature of Anglican unity changes over the weeks and months to come, we can still claim and stand on that greater unity, which, if we truly believe in the life, saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit, remains unshaken. We can disagree with one another, we can even declare ourselves out of communion with one another, whatever that means, but let’s not lose sight of the nature and purpose of the deeper unity that we have in the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. There can be nothing more important than that.1 Comment
The BBC website is carrying this live video link of Canon Robinson’s consecration, starting at 9pm until around midnight or so GMT.
Three protesters came forward to object to the consecration when the Presiding Bishop asked if there were any objections. The PB asked that they be listened to courteously and without approval or disapproval. The PB interrupted the first protester when he began to describe explicitly various sexual practices, and he continued briefly. The third protester, Bishop Bena, suffragan of Albany, read a statement on behalf of 38 ECUSA and Canadian bishops. The PB then responded briefly, thanking the objectors for their concerns, and saying that the basis of their objection has been known to all those involved in the process, the diocese of NH, General Convention, and the Primates. The Primates, he noted, affirmed their desire that we should understand one anothers’ contexts, that this was precisely what was happening here, and that therefore ‘we shall proceed’. The service then continued with the congregational affirmation of the the bishop-elect, and then the Litany. There was no sign of any disturbance or of people leaving the arena, but this may have occurred out of camera.
The Independent on Sunday prints Tom Butler: Today’s Bishop is a gay divorcee. We may not like it but is it worth a schism? by the Bishop of Southwark. This paper also has a news story, Gay bishop in disruption scare.
The Observer claims in Williams set to condemn gay bishop that Rowan Williams will issue “a strongly worded statement attacking the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire within the next 24 hours.”1 Comment
This was signed today in a service which started in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster and finished across the road in Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey has a brief report and if you follow the link to “More…” you will find two photographs taken during the Abbey part of the service.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s address does not appear to be online yet, but the text of it is available in a press release which is copied below.
[Update on Monday 3 November – The Archbishop’s address has been put online by the Anglican Communion News Service.]
The BBC has Anglicans and Methodists end rift.0 Comments
In the USA, the Washington Post has details of the planned protests on Sunday in Consecration Will Include Objections.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has a profile of both Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh and Bishop Bennison of Pennsylvania (the diocese centred on Philadelphia, altogether the state is divided into five Episcopal dioceses) in Two Pa. bishops, one church divide earlier story from that paper is headlined As gay bishop’s consecration nears, Episcopalians talk of schism.